Thursday, August 13, 2009

Post-travel knots

I'm trying to organize my thoughts into some form coherent enough to pass as a travel essay, but it isn't working very well. Problem one: the more I re-acclimate to life at home, the more nostalgia I feel for Ireland and the less I remember the frustrations I felt while there. Related to that is problem two: as distance increases, I know that the truth of whatever I write will decrease . . . which I suppose is the case for most recollections. Point being, I need to write quickly if I want to avoid a flowery tale of fluffy sheep, fluffy clouds and fluffy Irish folk.

A wave of said nostalgia hit an hour earlier when, instead of the whole milk I've been given in cafes (three years later, I still don't know how to type an accent on this keyboard) for the past few weeks, I made my tea with skim milk from the fridge. It's an unwelcome adjustment. In Ireland, the choice was between low-fat milk and full-fat milk . . . skim wasn't an option. As such, my tea was always wonderfully creamy and delicious. My favorite place in Ireland to sit, drink tea and write was at a cafe called Grappa on the river in Sligo--for a Euro fifty I could get a pot of tea and a table by the window. One wall was covered in wallpaper with maroon lilies on it, and the glass dessert case positioned against said wall never had anything in it more tempting than the croissants and scones at the tall counter. The sugar came in tubes rather than packets, and I always took a handful with me to make tea back at the townhouse.

Okay, enough of that. Time for work . . . with some Irish folk music in the background.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A shocking weekend

I've learned not to have expectations on this trip. The ability to float and adapt is one essential to maintaining some semblance of sanity, and our weekend trip totally required that. The plan was to be picked up at the Yeats Village (the townhouses where we're staying) at 10 AM on Saturday morning, at which point Rachel and Rob would already be on the bus. From there, we'd travel south to Galway and stay for the afternoon before getting back on the bus and heading to Doolin, where we'd stay for the next two nights and visit the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher.

I blame every frustration on the bus driver.

He arrived at 9.30 (time is denoted with a period instead of a colon here) and stood outside waiting as we threw things in our backpacks, scrambling because of the lost half-hour. We then discovered that he hadn't gone to the Sligo City Hotel to get R & R so after we all made it on the bus we went into town to pick them up. Long story short, he drove right past Galway and nobody noticed until we were hours out of the way. After a seven hour bus ride, we finally arrived in Doolin--a tiny town filled with bed & breakfasts on the edge of a giant cliff. Cows and sheep abound, and there is a kind of intimidating beauty about the bleakness of it all.

What I really want to tell you about is the walk that Lauren and I went on one afternoon. It wasn't raining but the clouds rolled by, grey and threatening but staggering and beautiful at the same time. It felt like the edge of the world. We decided to go walking towards the cliffs, turning down a gravel road lined with little homes that were eventually replaced by small fields, gridded by stone walls and thick brambles. We found a lane between the fields that began with tire tracks but narrowed to a single path. The entire time we walked I expected to suddenly come to a giant cliff and have the Atlantic in my hands but the path just became muddier and more difficult to traverse in our sneakers. I climbed a horse gate into a pasture, and we walked along the stone perimeter looking for a good place to jump the low wall towards the cliff. Brambles and barbed wire lined the stone, but eventually I found a place that was fairly free of obstruction--there was barbed wire on one side of the stone and a thin, solid wire on the other, but they looked easy enough to get over. I was able to raise my leg over the barbed wire and get over the wall quickly as the stones clacked and loosened under my weight. Then I was standing with my back to the barbed wire and stone and in front of me was only the single, solid, unassuming wire. I grabbed it, pulling it towards my body in order th step over it and threw myself back against the stone as my body rejected the wire or the wire rejected my body--it took a few moments before I realized what had happened. It was an electric fence. I stood there, chest heaving but not about to cry, as Lauren kept trying to ask me what had happened.

It was only scary for a moment. It was clear that we wouldn't be making it to the cliffs that day but by the time we found our way back to the muddy path it was something to joke about. When people ask me about my trip to Ireland, I'll be able to tell them I got electrocuted at the edge of the earth.